The Role of Life Cycle Management
This is where life cycle management, first discussed in the pioneering 1st International Conference on Life Cycle Management organized by Allan Astrup Jensen (2001), then formally introduced by David Hunkeler (Hunkeler et al. 2004) and later extended by Matthias Finkbeiner (Finkbeiner, ed, 2011) towards life cycle sustainability management, comes in by:
• Expanding the scope to also address upstream (supply chain) and downstream activities (customers and their customers, and products)
• Addressing not only environmental but also social and economic aspects throughout the life cycle of products and services
• Linking sustainability management and performance of organizations and products to business value and value creation
Expanding the scope means to include the complete value chain, both from the product perspective (life cycle thinking), but also in the sense of value chain cooperation between organizations. With such an approach, organizational and product performance become building blocks of the relationships with suppliers and customers and therefore part of the dialogue and performance criteria between partners in the value chain. This way optimal solutions can be found, looking at the complete picture, and trade-offs and inefficient activities can be avoided.
Linking sustainability to value is all about how sustainability can help to create added value. This goes far beyond cost savings and managing risks and compliance. It is an opportunity to leverage sustainability as an element of differentiation on the market and driver of profitable growth. It is an opportunity to make sustainability a key factor in research and development, operations, procurement, sales and marketing, etc.
How can this be achieved? It is extremely challenging or even impossible to get people excited about “doing less bad” or just being aligned with regulations and explicit requests (which are unfortunately often only “tick the box” exercises), but if one leverages the opportunities from an integrated value proposition that takes the sustainability offering into account, one gets to a completely new dimension that can move sustainability out of the “green corner” and into the business mainstream. And this is not limited to end-producers, who sell products to consumers. It is relevant for the complete value chain, since most of the time the contributions of businesses in the supply chain are essential to implement sustainability for a given end-product or service.
It is important to stress that this value proposition can relate to both direct product performance (e.g., a product with improved environmental life cycle performance) and management performance in the supply chain without measurable changes in the product (such as for ethically sourced products).
Leading businesses that are successful in making life cycle management an enabler that helps to make the day-to-day job of the aforementioned functions more efficient and/or better are achieving an edge and are outperforming their competitors. In order to make this happen, sustainability has to be integrated into standard business processes, very similar to the way quality or cost aspects are integrated today (Remmen et al. 2007; UNEP/SETAC 2009).
Conclusions and Perspectives
In summary one can conclude that life cycle management is an extremely powerful concept and process and can enable businesses and other organizations to make sustainability part of “business as usual” and deliver real-world improvements for them and their customers. Life cycle sustainability management, if developed and implemented appropriately for a given organization, has the power to move sustainability management from a cost of doing business to a driver of profitability affecting all three elements of the triple bottom line.
In the long term, it is expected that life cycle management can help to transform the market by making sustainability a differentiator just as quality is today. Only if sustainability is a factor of competition on the market, can market forces kick in to drive performance. Life cycle management can be enabler to unleash these market forces and deliver the step-change improvements, e.g., in combating climate change impacts, that are so desperately needed for the long-term prosperity and survival of mankind.
Jensen AA (2001) Life cycle management – a bridge to sustainable products. In: 1st international conference of life cycle management (LCM). dk-TEKNIK ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT, Copenhagen/Soeborg, 27–28 Aug 2001
Finkbeiner M (ed) (2011) Towards life cycle sustainability management. Springer, Dordrecht/ Heidelberg/London/New York
Hunkeler D, Saur K, Rebitzer G, Schmidt W, Jensen A, Stranddorf H, Christiansen K (2004) Life cycle management. SETAC, Pensacola FL
Remmen A, Jensen AA, Frydendal J (2007) Life cycle management. A business guide to sustainability. UNEP DTIE
UNEP/SETAC (2009) Life cycle management: how business uses it to decrease footprint, create opportunities and make value chains more sustainable. UNEP, Paris